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At memorial, Emilie's dad laments loss, thanks community

Published December 21, 2012 5:47 pm

Utahns pay their respects to the little girl with a big heart and release lanterns to honor all Sandy Hook victims.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Ogden • Robbie Parker stood in the middle of the high school where hemet his future bride, a few miles from the small house where the couple started a family and an eternity from the life he knew just seven days ago.

It took him a few seconds to compose himself Thursday night as he looked over the large crowd trying to absorb some of the grief for him. His voice cracked.

"This sucks," he said. "There is no reason to be here."

Except there was.

Parker came home to Ogden this week to bury his 6-year-old daughter, Emilie.

She was one of 20 schoolchildren gunned down in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14, and the shock, sadness and despair rippled all the way to this town nestled next to white-capped mountains.

The Parkers, sensing Ogden's desire to offer its support, set up Thursday's public memorial service at Ben Lomond High so the community could grieve with them and allow Saturday's funeral to be a more private affair.

Hundreds filled the commons area to pay homage to Emilie — girls in matching pink tops, men sporting pink ties, each honoring the youngster by donning her favorite color, fueled by a love of the Pinkalicious book series. Others wore green, the colors of shooting-scarred Sandy Hook Elementary. Some knew the family well. Some, like a contingent of burly, leather-clad members of Bikers Against Child Abuse, came for the cause.

"Any time you lose a child, that is something that should not have happened," said the singular-named biker Ish.

Ogden Mayor Mike Caldwell, standing on a stage that included a white Christmas tree with pink-hued lights and angel ornaments from Connecticut, said his city was doing all it could to ferry the Parker family through the tragedy.

"We want to give you the nicest, safest space to put her to rest," Caldwell said, "and for you to return and know this love here will not die."

Parker was overwhelmed.

He said he took one of his daughterson a drive to see all the pink ribbons adorning Ogden in Emilie's honor.

"I pulled over to show her this one spot that I thought was really pretty," Parker said. "I closed my eyes, and I thought about how many people it took to do that. And I thought about each hand tying each ribbon."

The size of the crowd staggered him, too. Most of the mourners were standing because there weren't enough chairs to fit them all. Some looked down from a balcony on the school's second floor.

"A lot of you guys don't even know who she is," Parker said. "A lot of you have never even met her."

Final trip • Alissa Parker, Emilie's mother, chose not to attend the service. Close family friend Alan Prothero said she wanted "to spend some time with her [two] daughters" and was still too fragile to make a public appearance.

Her brother, Brady Cottle, spoke instead. He offered a collection of quotes from Emilie's cousins — all children — about the blond, blue-eyed youngster. One cousin remembered taking all the dirt out of flower pots with Emilie and making a mess.

For his part, Cottlerecalled what Emilie's younger sister, Madeline, had heard her big sister say.

"Emilie says I'm special."

He also noted that, in many photographs, the Cottles tended to be in the background while Robbie Parker was more visible — unsurprising, given Parker's past work as Oggie, the outgoing turquoise dinosaur mascot for Ogden's minor-league baseball team, the Raptors.

Jessica DeBoer, who went to Ben Lomond High with Robbie and Alissa, said in an interview she had once asked him out. She remembered he showed up dressed as Oggie while she worked the counter at Baskin-Robbins.

"He would do anything for a laugh," she said.

Close friend Brad Schultz said Robbie and Alissa were the two biggest flirts in their circle of friends. It seemed obvious that they would end up together.

"They were so flirty with each other," Schultz said, "that they probably were together before they even knew it."

Parker did — through some sobs — get the crowd to laugh as he told the story of how he and his wife were so poor getting started in their small, 23rd Street house that they had to give each other handmade gifts. With Emilie still a baby, he decided to try his hand at crochet, taught to him by his mother-in-law.

It didn't go well.

"I tried to make Emilie this scarf and hat," he said. "I'm glad she was young enough to not see how it turned out."

Parker remembered how his daughter loved to pick flowers — so much so that they finally feared she would uproot too many. They coaxed her instead into picking as many dandelions as she wanted.

Such memories of Emilie hewed next to the searing pain of loss. He said the public grieving — which he believed came from "a pure place" — was welcome but nonetheless tough on the family.

"A lot of people have asked how we're doing," he said. "My opinion is we need to come up with an alternate way to greet somebody."

The final memory Robbie shared of his daughter was of a trip the family took to St. George. Emilie loved the vibrant colors of the desert landscape, and it seemed the perfect setting for the creative girl and her mother, who enjoys photography.

On that last trip, Emilie told Alissa that they would have to return — just the two of them — so Emilie could paint and her mom could take pictures.

Ending with that anecdote about a trip that would not happen, it seemed that Robbie had mustered as much strength as he could. He thanked the community members, told them he loved them and sat down, burying his head in his hands.

Looking up • Emilie loved the movie "Tangled."

During a slide show depicting the girl standing on the beach, resting her head softly on a pillow or playing with baby ducks, the song "I See the Light" from the movie played.

Parker, for the slide presentation, had moved off the stage and sat on the floor in the front row. He was singing along.

In the movie, Rapunzel sees paper lanterns flying from her tower. It was one of Emilie's favorite parts.

After the speakers, the family and crowd moved outside and gathered at the 50-yard line on the football field. There, lanterns were lit and launched in remembrance of each Sandy Hook victim and descriptions were read about each person.

Parker launched Emilie's lantern — a pink one — last and spoke in Portuguese. It was a language he had been teaching Emilie. Loosely translated, he said, "I love you and you'll always be with us."

Bagpipers then wailed "Amazing Grace." The lanterns drifted up and disappeared into the cold, dark sky. The crowd members surrounded Parker in a circle and began their warm embrace. —

Voices from the memorial

"At times it felt like we were mourning in a glass house." Robbie Parker, Emilie's father

"Every single craft store, department store, grocery store is completely out of pink ribbons." Mike Caldwell, Ogden's mayor

"We are some of the luckiest people in the world to have her in our lives." Karen Parker, Emilie's grandmother

"Something that big, it can't help but hit home." Jeanette Leishmann, Morgan resident who attended the event —

Moment of silence

At 9:30 a.m. Friday, Utah will join other states in a moment of silence for the victims of the Sandy Hook shootings. Government buildings and places of worship are encouraged to ring bells 26 times for each of the victims at the school. The bells at the Utah Capitol also will play "Angels We Have Heard on High," one of Emilie Parker's favorite songs.

There will be a candlelight vigil Friday in Magna to remember the Sandy Hook shootings. The vigil will be from 6:30 to 7 p.m. at Veterans Park, 2700 S. 8400 West. —

Voices from the memorial

"At times it felt like we were mourning in a glass house." Robbie Parker, Emilie's father

"Every single craft store, department store, grocery store is completely out of pink ribbons." Mike Caldwell, Ogden's mayor

"We are some of the luckiest people in the world to have her in our lives." Karen Parker, Emilie's grandmother

"Something that big, it can't help but hit home." Jeanette Leishmann, Morgan resident who attended the event






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